'keepin' it REAL' to partner with D.A.R.E. America in middle schools

University Park, Pa. -- D.A.R.E. America, the internationally prominent substance abuse prevention program, has licensed a new curriculum as part of their middle school program nationwide. The program was jointly developed by Penn State and Arizona State University researchers.

"keepin' it REAL" is an effective, multicultural middle-school drug prevention program created by the Drug Resistance Strategies Project, headquartered at Penn State. The curriculum was developed by Michael Hecht, distinguished professor of communications arts and sciences and crime, law and justice, and Michelle Miller-Day, associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State through 20 years of research.

The program's lessons engage youth through their own stories or narratives and teach youth critical thinking skills and resistance strategies. The curriculum has 10 lessons, 5 of which use videos, and was designated as an evidence-based program on the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.

"We are excited to form this partnership with Penn State to create new D.A.R.E. programming for middle school using this successful, research-based curriculum," said Charles Parson, D.A.R.E. Executive Director.

"keepin' it REAL" was honored in 2008 as one of 15 stellar community-university partnerships that enabled Penn State to receive the prestigious Classification in Community Engagement from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

"This is a great opportunity to expand the 'keepin' it REAL' program nationwide through D.A.R.E.'s outstanding network of officers" says Hecht. "We very much look forward to working with the D.A.R.E. America organization and its partner schools."

The "keepin' it REAL" program is a perfect fit for D.A.R.E. America. Hecht notes that "keepin' it REAL" has been proven through evaluation research studies to be effective in limiting alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use by 7th and 8th graders. It is one of the few multicultural evidence-based programs that is ideal for a national and international program such as D.A.R.E."

The program has been implemented at individual school districts in many states including Texas, Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Delaware, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Currently, the researchers are testing the prevention curriculum among a new target audience in rural Pennsylvania and Ohio schools and studying how teachers adapt the strategies for rural youth.

"keepin' it REAL" will join the D.A.R.E. programs in 10,000 U.S. communities and 43 other countries, with 23,000 current D.A.R.E. instructors teaching millions of students. Currently, D.A.R.E. programs reach students in 75 percent of elementary schools but only 40 percent of middle schools. D.A.R.E. leaders would like to see this expanded with the new curriculum.

"For several years, we have been working with experts in the research, education and prevention fields in developing a new middle school and high school curricula for D.A.R.E., working closely with our supporters and critics." notes Frank Pegueros, executive director of D.A.R.E. America. "Our goal is to persuade school, community leaders and local law enforcement that students still need to participate in follow-up programs in middle and high school. The curriculum has to fit into a set number of lessons due to the many other demands on middle school administrators and is most effective in the 10-lesson format of 'keepin' it REAL.' "

"We reviewed several programs and determined that the 'keepin' It REAL' was the best match for our delivery systems by our trained law enforcement officers," he added. "It is research-based and its lessons incorporate key academic objectives such as critical thinking, health, language arts and mathematics."

Many middle schools have school resource officers to deal with safety issues. If these officers also are teaching D.A.R.E. classes, they can develop positive relationships with students. This can help prevent risky and unsafe behavior, according to Pegueros.

D.A.R.E. America formally announced the new middle school curriculum at its annual international training conference July 20-24 in Orlando, naming Hecht the 2009 "D.A.R.E. Champion."

For fall 2009, D.A.R.E. America will begin to transition the middle school curriculum to the "keepin' it REAL" program, with the goal of completion by fall 2010.

Information about "keepin' it REAL" is at: www.kir.psu.edu/
Information about D.A.R.E. America is at: www.dare.org

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Last Updated April 05, 2010